Before we relate the domestic drama which the coming of Jacques Brigaut was destined to bring about in the Rogron family it is best to explain how the lad came to be in Provins; for he is, as it were, a somewhat mute personage on the scene.
When he ran from the house Brigaut was not only frightened by Pierrette's gesture, he was horrified by the change he saw in his little friend. He could scarcely recognize the voice, the eyes, the gestures that were once so lively, gay, and withal so tender. When he had gained some distance from the house his legs began to tremble under him; hot flushes ran down his back. He had seen the shadow of Pierrette, but not Pierrette herself! The lad climbed to the Upper town till he found a spot from which he could see the square and the house where Pierrette lived. He gazed at it mournfully, lost in many thoughts, as though he were entering some grief of which he could not see the end. Pierrette was ill; she was not happy; she pined for Brittany—what was the matter with her? All these questions passed and repassed through his heart and rent it, revealing to his own soul the extent of his love for his little adopted sister.
It is extremely rare to find a passion existing between two children of opposite sexes. The charming story of Paul and Virginia does not, any more than this of Pierrette and Brigaut, answer the question put by that strange moral fact. Modern history offers only the illustrious instance of the Marchesa di Pescara and her husband. Destined to marry by their parents from their earliest years, they adored each other and were married, and their union gave to the sixteenth century the noble spectacle of a perfect conjugal love without a flaw. When the marchesa became a widow at the age of thirty-four, beautiful, intellectually brilliant, universally adored, she refused to marry sovereigns and buried herself in a convent, seeing and knowing thenceforth only nuns. Such was the perfect love that suddenly developed itself in the heart of the Breton workman. Pierrette and he had often protected each other; with what bliss had he given her the money for her journey; he had almost killed himself by running after the diligence when she left him. Pierrette had known nothing of all that; but for him the recollection had warmed and comforted the cold, hard life he had led for the last three years. For Pierrette's sake he had struggled to improve himself; he had learned his trade for Pierrette; he had come to Paris for Pierrette, intending to make his fortune for her. After spending a fortnight in the city, he had not been able to hold out against the desire to see her, and he had walked from Saturday night to Monday morning. He intended to return to Paris; but the moving sight of his little friend nailed him to Provins. A wonderful magnetism (still denied in spite of many proofs) acted upon him without his knowledge. Tears rolled from his eyes when they rose in hers. If to her he was Brittany and her happy childhood, to him she was life itself.
At sixteen years of age Brigaut did not yet know how to draw or to model a cornice; he was ignorant of much, but he had earned, by piece-work done in the leisure of his apprenticeship, some four or five francs a day. On this he could live in Provins and be near Pierrette; he would choose the best cabinet-maker in the town, and learn the rest of his trade in working for him, and thus keep watch over his darling.
Brigaut's mind was made up as he sat there thinking. He went back to Paris and fetched his certificate, tools, and baggage, and three days later he was a journeyman in the establishment of Monsieur Frappier, the best cabinet-maker in Provins. Active, steady workmen, not given to junketing and taverns, are so rare that masters hold to young men like Brigaut when they find them. To end Brigaut's history on this point, we will say here that by the end of the month he was made foreman, and was fed and lodged by Frappier, who taught him arithmetic and line drawing. The house and shop were in the Grand'Rue, not a hundred feet from the little square where Pierrette lived.
Brigaut buried his love in his heart and committed no imprudence. He made Madame Frappier tell him all she knew about the Rogrons. Among other things, she related to him the way in which their father had laid hands on the property of old Auffray, Pierrette's grandfather. Brigaut obtained other information as to the character of the brother and sister. He met Pierrette sometimes in the market with her cousin, and shuddered to see the heavy basket she was carrying on her arm. On Sundays he went to church to look for her, dressed in her best clothes. There, for the first time, he became aware that Pierrette was Mademoiselle Lorrain. Pierrette saw him and made him a hasty sign to keep out of sight. To him, there was a world of things in that little gesture, as there had been, a fortnight earlier, in the sign by which she told him from her window to run away. Ah! what a fortune he must make in the coming ten years in order to marry his little friend, to whom, he was told, the Rogrons were to leave their house, a hundred acres of land, and twelve thousand francs a year, not counting their savings!
The persevering Breton was determined to be thoroughly educated for his trade, and he set about acquiring all the knowledge that he lacked. As long as only the principles of his work were concerned he could learn those in Provins as well as in Paris, and thus remain near Pierrette, to whom he now became anxious to explain his projects and the sort of protection she could rely on from him. He was determined to know the reason of her pallor, and of the debility which was beginning to appear in the organ which is always the last to show the signs of failing life, namely the eyes; he would know, too, the cause of the sufferings which gave her that look as though death were near and she might drop at any moment beneath its scythe. The two signs, the two gestures—not denying their friendship but imploring caution—alarmed the young Breton. Evidently Pierrette wished him to wait and not attempt to see her; otherwise there was danger, there was peril for her. As she left the church she was able to give him one look, and Brigaut saw that her eyes were full of tears. But he could have sooner squared the circle than have guessed what had happened in the Rogrons' house during the fortnight which had elapsed since his arrival.
It was not without keen apprehension that Pierrette came downstairs on the morning after Brigaut had invaded her morning dreams like another dream. She was certain that her cousin Sylvie must have heard the song, or she would not have risen and opened her window; but Pierrette was ignorant of the powerful reasons that made the old maid so alert. For the last eight days, strange events and bitter feelings agitated the minds of the chief personages who frequented the Rogron salon. These hidden matters, carefully concealed by all concerned, were destined to fall in their results like an avalanche on Pierrette. Such mysterious things, which we ought perhaps to call the putrescence of the human heart, lie at the base of the greatest revolutions, political, social or domestic; but in telling of them it is desirable to explain that their subtle significance cannot be given in a matter-of-fact narrative. These secret schemes and calculations do not show themselves as brutally and undisguisedly while taking place as they must when the history of them is related. To set down in writing the circumlocutions, oratorical precautions, protracted conversations, and honeyed words glossed over the venom of intentions, would make as long a book as that magnificent poem called "Clarissa Harlowe."
Mademoiselle Habert and Mademoiselle Sylvie were equally desirous of marrying, but one was ten years older than the other, and the probabilities of life allowed Celeste Habert to expect that her children would inherit all the Rogron property. Sylvie was forty-two, an age at which marriage is beset by perils. In confiding to each other their ideas, Celeste, instigated by her vindictive brother the priest, enlightened Sylvie as to the dangers she would incur. Sylvie trembled; she was terribly afraid of death, an idea which shakes all celibates to their centre. But just at this time the Martignac ministry came into power,—a Liberal victory which overthrew the Villele administration. The Vinet party now carried their heads high in Provins. Vinet himself became a personage. The Liberals prophesied his advancement; he would certainly be deputy and attorney-general. As for the colonel, he would be made mayor of Provins. Ah, to reign as Madame Garceland, the wife of the present mayor, now reigned! Sylvie could not hold out against that hope; she determined to consult a doctor, though the proceeding would only cover her with ridicule. To consult Monsieur Neraud, the Liberal physician and the rival of Monsieur Martener, would be a blunder. Celeste Habert offered to hide Sylvie in her dressing-room while she herself consulted Monsieur Martener, the physician of her establishment, on this difficult matter. Whether Martener was, or was not, Celeste's accomplice need not be discovered; at any rate, he told his client that even at thirty the danger, though slight, did exist. "But," he added, "with your constitution, you need fear nothing."
"But how about a woman over forty?" asked Mademoiselle Celeste.
"A married woman who has had children has nothing to fear."
"But I mean an unmarried woman, like Mademoiselle Rogron, for instance?"
"Oh, that's another thing," said Monsieur Martener. "Successful childbirth is then one of those miracles which God sometimes allows himself, but rarely."
"Why?" asked Celeste.
The doctor answered with a terrifying pathological description; he explained that the elasticity given by nature to youthful muscles and bones did not exist at a later age, especially in women whose lives were sedentary.
"So you think that an unmarried woman ought not to marry after forty?"
"Not unless she waits some years," replied the doctor. "But then, of course, it is not marriage, it is only an association of interests."
The result of the interview, clearly, seriously, scientifically and sensibly stated, was that an unmarried woman would make a great mistake in marrying after forty. When the doctor had departed Mademoiselle Celeste found Sylvie in a frightful state, green and yellow, and with the pupils of her eyes dilated.
"Then you really love the colonel?" asked Celeste.
"I still hoped," replied Sylvie.
"Well, then, wait!" cried Mademoiselle Habert, Jesuitically, aware that time would rid her of the colonel.
Sylvie's new devotion to the church warned her that the morality of such a marriage might be doubtful. She accordingly sounded her conscience in the confessional. The stern priest explained the opinions of the Church, which sees in marriage only the propagation of humanity, and rebukes second marriages and all passions but those with a social purpose. Sylvie's perplexities were great. These internal struggles gave extraordinary force to her passion, investing it with that inexplicable attraction which, from the days of Eve, the thing forbidden possesses for women. Mademoiselle Rogron's perturbation did not escape the lynx-eyed lawyer.
One evening, after the game had ended, Vinet approached his dear friend Sylvie, took her hand, and led her to a sofa.
"Something troubles you," he said.
She nodded sadly. The lawyer let the others depart; Rogron walked home with the Chargeboeufs, and when Vinet was alone with the old maid he wormed the truth out of her.
"Cleverly played, abbe!" thought he. "But you've played into my hands."
The foxy lawyer was more decided in his opinion than even the doctor. He advised marriage in ten years. Inwardly he was vowing that the whole Rogron fortune should go to Bathilde. He rubbed his hands, his pinched lips closed more tightly as he hurried home. The influence exercised by Monsieur Habert, physician of the soul, and by Vinet, doctor of the purse, balanced each other perfectly. Rogron had no piety in him; so the churchman and the man of law, the black-robed pair, were fairly matched.
On discovering the victory obtained by Celeste, in her anxiety to marry Rogron herself, over Sylvie, torn between the fear of death and the joy of being baronness and mayoress, the lawyer saw his chance of driving the colonel from the battlefield. He knew Rogron well enough to be certain he could marry him to Bathilde; Jerome had already succumbed inwardly to her charms, and Vinet knew that the first time the pair were alone together the marriage would be settled. Rogron had reached the point of keeping his eyes fixed on Celeste, so much did he fear to look at Bathilde. Vinet had now possessed himself of Sylvie's secrets, and saw the force with which she loved the colonel. He fully understood the struggle of such a passion in the heart of an old maid who was also in the grasp of religious emotion, and he saw his way to rid himself of Pierrette and the colonel both by making each the cause of the other's overthrow.
The next day, after the court had risen, Vinet met the colonel and Rogron talking a walk together, according to their daily custom.
Whenever the three men were seen in company the whole town talked of it. This triumvirate, held in horror by the sub-prefect, the magistracy, and the Tiphaine clique, was, on the other hand, a source of pride and vanity to the Liberals of Provins. Vinet was sole editor of the "Courrier" and the head of the party; the colonel, the working manager, was its arm; Rogron, by means of his purse, its nerves. The Tiphaines declared that the three men were always plotting evil to the government; the Liberals admired them as the defenders of the people. When Rogron turned to go home, recalled by a sense of his dinner-hour, Vinet stopped the colonel from following him by taking Gouraud's arm.
"Well, colonel," he said, "I am going to take a fearful load off your shoulders; you can do better than marry Sylvie; if you play your cards properly you can marry that little Pierrette in two years' time."
He thereupon related the Jesuit's manoeuvre and its effect on Sylvie.
"What a skulking trick!" cried the colonel; "and spreading over years, too!"
"Colonel," said Vinet, gravely, "Pierrette is a charming creature; with her you can be happy for the rest of your life; your health is so sound that the difference in your ages won't seem disproportionate. But, all the same, you mustn't think it an easy thing to change a dreadful fate to a pleasant one. To turn a woman who loves you into a friend and confidant is as perilous a business as crossing a river under fire of the enemy. Cavalry colonel as you are, and daring too, you must study the position and manoeuvre your forces with the same wisdom you have displayed hitherto, and which has won us our present position. If I get to be attorney-general you shall command the department. Oh! if you had been an elector we should be further advanced than we are now; I should have bought the votes of those two clerks by threatening them with the loss of their places, and we should have had a majority."
The colonel had long been thinking about Pierrette, but he concealed his thoughts with the utmost dissimulation. His roughness to the child was only a mask; but she could not understand why the man who claimed to be her father's old comrade should usually treat her so ill, when sometimes, if he met her alone, he would chuck her under the chin and give her a friendly kiss. But after the conversation with Vinet relating to Sylvie's fears of marriage Gouraud began to seek opportunities to find Pierrette alone; the rough colonel made himself as soft as a cat; he told her how brave her father was and what a misfortune it had been for her that she lost him.
A few days before Brigaut's arrival Sylvie had come suddenly upon Gouraud and Pierrette talking together. Instantly, jealousy rushed into her heart with monastic violence. Jealousy, eminently credulous and suspicious, is the passion in which fancy has most freedom, but for all that it does not give a person intelligence; on the contrary, it hinders them from having any; and in Sylvie's case jealousy only filled her with fantastic ideas. When (a few mornings later) she heard Brigaut's ditty, she jumped to the conclusion that the man who had used the words "Madam' le mariee," addressing them to Pierrette, must be the colonel. She was certain she was right, for she had noticed for a week past a change in his manners. He was the only man who, in her solitary life, had ever paid her any attention. Consequently she watched him with all her eyes, all her mind; and by giving herself up to hopes that were sometimes flourishing, sometimes blighted, she had brought the matter to such enormous proportions that she saw all things in a mental mirage. To use a common but excellent expression, by dint of looking intently she saw nothing. Alternately she repelled, admitted, and conquered the supposition of this rivalry. She compared herself with Pierrette; she was forty-two years old, with gray hair; Pierrette was delicately fair, with eyes soft enough to warm a withered heart. She had heard it said that men of fifty were apt to love young girls of just that kind. Before the colonel had come regularly to the house Sylvie had heard in the Tiphaines' salon strange stories of his life and morals. Old maids preserve in their love-affairs the exaggerated Platonic sentiments which young girls of twenty are wont to profess; they hold to these fixed doctrines like all who have little experience of life and no personal knowledge of how great social forces modify, impair, and bring to nought such grand and noble ideas. The mere thought of being jilted by the colonel was torture to Sylvie's brain. She lay in her bed going over and over her own desires, Pierrette's conduct, and the song which had awakened her with the word "marriage." Like the fool she was, instead of looking through the blinds to see the lover, she opened her window without reflecting that Pierrette would hear her. If she had had the common instinct of a spy she would have seen Brigaut, and the fatal drama then begun would never have taken place.
It was Pierrette's duty, weak as she was, to take down the bars that closed the wooden shutters of the kitchen, which she opened and fastened back; then she opened in like manner the glass door leading from the corridor to the garden. She took the various brooms that were used for sweeping the carpets, the dining-room, the passages and stairs, together with the other utensils, with a care and particularity which no servant, not even a Dutchwoman, gives to her work. She hated reproof. Happiness for her was in seeing the cold blue pallid eyes of her cousin, not satisfied (that they never were), but calm, after glancing about her with the look of an owner,—that wonderful glance which sees what escapes even the most vigilant eyes of others. Pierrette's skin was moist with her labor when she returned to the kitchen to put it in order, and light the stove that she might carry up hot water to her two cousins (a luxury she never had for herself) and the means of lighting fires in their rooms. After this she laid the table for breakfast and lit the stove in the dining-room. For all these various fires she had to fetch wood and kindling from the cellar, leaving the warm rooms for a damp and chilly atmosphere. Such sudden transitions, made with the quickness of youth, often to escape a harsh word or obey an order, aggravated the condition of her health. She did not know she was ill, and yet she suffered. She began to have strange cravings; she liked raw vegetables and salads, and ate them secretly. The innocent child was quite unaware that her condition was that of serious illness which needed the utmost care. If Neraud, the Rogrons' doctor, had told this to Pierrette before Brigaut's arrival she would only have smiled; life was so bitter she could smile at death. But now her feelings changed; the child, to whose physical sufferings was added the anguish of Breton homesickness (a moral malady so well-known that colonels in the army allow for it among their men), was suddenly content to be in Provins. The sight of that yellow flower, the song, the presence of her friend, revived her as a plant long without water revives under rain. Unconsciously she wanted to live, and even thought she did not suffer.
Pierrette slipped timidly into her cousin's bedroom, made the fire, left the hot water, said a few words, and went to wake Rogron and do the same offices for him. Then she went down to take in the milk, the bread, and the other provisions left by the dealers. She stood some time on the sill of the door hoping that Brigaut would have the sense to come to her; but by that time he was already on his way to Paris.
She had finished the arrangement of the dining-room and was busy in the kitchen when she heard her cousin Sylvie coming down. Mademoiselle Rogron appeared in a brown silk dressing-gown and a cap with bows; her false front was awry, her night-gown showed above the silk wrapper, her slippers were down at heel. She gave an eye to everything and then came straight to Pierrette, who was awaiting her orders to know what to prepare for breakfast.
"Ha! here you are, lovesick young lady!" said Sylvie, in a mocking tone.
"What is it, cousin?"
"You came into my room like a sly cat, and you crept out the same way, though you knew very well I had something to say to you."
"You had a serenade this morning, as if you were a princess."
"A serenade!" exclaimed Pierrette.
"A serenade!" said Sylvie, mimicking her; "and you've a lover, too."
"What is a lover, cousin?"
Sylvie avoided answering, and said:—
"Do you dare to tell me, mademoiselle, that a man did not come under your window and talk to you of marriage?"
Persecution had taught Pierrette the wariness of slaves; so she answered bravely:—
"I don't know what you mean,—"
"Who means?—your dog?" said Sylvie, sharply.
"I should have said 'cousin,'" replied the girl, humbly.
"And didn't you get up and go in your bare feet to the window?—which will give you an illness; and serve you right, too. And perhaps you didn't talk to your lover, either?"
"I know you have many faults, but I did not think you told lies. You had better think this over, mademoiselle; you will have to explain this affair to your cousin and to me, or your cousin will be obliged to take severe measures."
The old maid, exasperated by jealousy and curiosity, meant to frighten the girl. Pierrette, like all those who suffer more than they have strength to bear, kept silence. Silence is the only weapon by which such victims can conquer; it baffles the Cossack charges of envy, the savage skirmishings of suspicion; it does at times give victory, crushing and complete,—for what is more complete than silence? it is absolute; it is one of the attributes of infinity. Sylvie watched Pierrette narrowly. The girl colored; but the color, instead of rising evenly, came out in patches on her cheekbones, in burning and significant spots. A mother, seeing that symptom of illness, would have changed her tone at once; she would have taken the child on her lap and questioned her; in fact, she would long ago have tenderly understood the signs of Pierrette's pure and perfect innocence; she would have seen her weakness and known that the disturbance of the digestive organs and the other functions of the body was about to affect the lungs. Those eloquent patches would have warned her of an imminent danger. But an old maid, one in whom the family instincts have never been awakened, to whom the needs of childhood and the precautions required for adolescence were unknown, had neither the indulgence nor the compassionate intelligence of a mother; such sufferings as those of Pierrette, instead of softening her heart only made it more callous.
"She blushes, she is guilty!" thought Sylvie.
Pierrette's silence was thus interpreted to her injury.
"Pierrette," continued Sylvie, "before your cousin comes down we must have some talk together. Come," she said, in a rather softer tone, "shut the street door; if any one comes they will rung and we shall hear them."
In spite of the damp mist which was rising from the river, Sylvie took Pierrette along the winding gravel path which led across the lawn to the edge of the rock terrace,—a picturesque little quay, covered with iris and aquatic plants. She now changed her tactics, thinking she might catch Pierrette tripping by softness; the hyena became a cat.
"Pierrette," she said, "you are no longer a child; you are nearly fifteen, and it is not at all surprising that you should have a lover."
"But, cousin," said Pierrette, raising her eyes with angelic sweetness to the cold, sour face of her cousin, "What is a lover?"
It would have been impossible for Sylvie to define a lover with truth and decency to the girl's mind. Instead of seeing in that question the proof of adorable innocence, she considered it a piece of insincerity.
"A lover, Pierrette, is a man who loves us and wishes to marry us."
"Ah," said Pierrette, "when that happens in Brittany we call the young man a suitor."
"Well, remember that in owning your feelings for a man you do no wrong, my dear. The wrong is in hiding them. Have you pleased some of the men who visit here?"
"I don't think so, cousin."
"Do you love any of them?"
"Look at me, Pierrette."
Pierrette looked at Sylvie.
"A man called to you this morning in the square."
Pierrette lowered her eyes.
"You went to your window, you opened it, and you spoke to him."
"No cousin, I went to look out and I saw a peasant."
"Pierrette, you have much improved since you made your first communion; you have become pious and obedient, you love God and your relations; I am satisfied with you. I don't say this to puff you up with pride."
The horrible creature had mistaken despondency, submission, the silence of wretchedness, for virtues!
The sweetest of all consolations to suffering souls, to martyrs, to artists, in the worst of that divine agony which hatred and envy force upon them, is to meet with praise where they have hitherto found censure and injustice. Pierrette raised her grateful eyes to her cousin, feeling that she could almost forgive her for the sufferings she had caused.
"But if it is all hypocrisy, if I find you a serpent that I have warmed in my bosom, you will be a wicked girl, an infamous creature!"
"I think I have nothing to reproach myself with," said Pierrette, with a painful revulsion of her heart at the sudden change from unexpected praise to the tones of the hyena.
"You know that to lie is a mortal sin?"
"Well, you are now under the eye of God," said the old maid, with a solemn gesture towards the sky; "swear to me that you did not know that peasant."
"I will not swear," said Pierrette.
"Ha! he was no peasant, you little viper."
Pierrette rushed away like a frightened fawn terrified at her tone. Sylvie called her in a dreadful voice.
"The bell is ringing," she answered.
"Artful wretch!" thought Sylvie. "She is depraved in mind; and now I am certain the little adder has wound herself round the colonel. She has heard us say he was a baron. To be a baroness! little fool! Ah! I'll get rid of her, I'll apprentice her out, and soon too!"
Sylvie was so lost in thought that she did not notice her brother coming down the path and bemoaning the injury the frost had done to his dahlias.
"Sylvie! what are you thinking about? I thought you were looking at the fish; sometimes they jump out of the water."
"No," said Sylvie.
"How did you sleep?" and he began to tell her about his own dreams. "Don't you think my skin is getting tabid?"—a word in the Rogron vocabulary.
Ever since Rogron had been in love,—but let us not profane the word,—ever since he had desired to marry Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf, he was very uneasy about himself and his health. At this moment Pierrette came down the garden steps and called to them from a distance that breakfast was ready. At sight of her cousin, Sylvie's skin turned green and yellow, her bile was in commotion. She looked at the floor of the corridor and declared that Pierrette ought to rub it.
"I will rub it now if you wish," said the little angel, not aware of the injury such work may do to a young girl.
The dining-room was irreproachably in order. Sylvie sat down and pretended all through breakfast to want this, that, and the other thing which she would never have thought of in a quieter moment, and which she now asked for only to make Pierrette rise again and again just as the child was beginning to eat her food. But such mere teasing was not enough; she wanted a subject on which to find fault, and was angry with herself for not finding one. She scarcely answered her brother's silly remarks, yet she looked at him only; her eyes avoided Pierrette. Pierrette was deeply conscious of all this. She brought the milk mixed with cream for each cousin in a large silver goblet, after heating it carefully in the bain-marie. The brother and sister poured in the coffee made by Sylvie herself on the table. When Sylvie had carefully prepared hers, she saw an atom of coffee-grounds floating on the surface. On this the storm broke forth.
"What is the matter?" asked Rogron.
"The matter is that mademoiselle has put dust in my milk. Do you suppose I am going to drink coffee with ashes in it? Well, I am not surprised; no one can do two things at once. She wasn't thinking of the milk! a blackbird might have flown through the kitchen to-day and she wouldn't have seen it! how should she see the dust flying! and then it was my coffee, ha! that didn't signify!"
As she spoke she was laying on the side of her plate the coffee-grounds that had run through the filter.
"But, cousin, that is coffee," said Pierrette.
"Oh! then it is I who tell lies, is it?" cried Sylvie, looking at Pierrette and blasting her with a fearful flash of anger from her eyes.
Organizations which have not been exhausted by powerful emotions often have a vast amount of the vital fluid at their service. This phenomenon of the extreme clearness of the eye in moments of anger was the more marked in Mademoiselle Rogron because she had often exercised the power of her eyes in her shop by opening them to their full extent for the purpose of inspiring her dependents with salutary fear.
"You had better dare to give me the lie!" continued Sylvie; "you deserve to be sent from the table to go and eat by yourself in the kitchen."
"What's the matter with you two?" cried Rogron, "you are as cross as bears this morning."
"Mademoiselle knows what I have against her," said Sylvie. "I leave her to make up her mind before speaking to you; for I mean to show her more kindness than she deserves."
Pierrette was looking out of the window to avoid her cousin's eyes, which frightened her.
"Look at her! she pays no more attention to what I am saying than if I were that sugar-basin! And yet mademoiselle has a sharp ear; she can hear and answer from the top of the house when some one talks to her from below. She is perversity itself,—perversity, I say; and you needn't expect any good of her; do you hear me, Jerome?"
"What has she done wrong?" asked Rogron.
"At her age, too! to begin so young!" screamed the angry old maid.
Pierrette rose to clear the table and give herself something to do, for she could hardly bear the scene any longer. Though such language was not new to her, she had never been able to get used to it. Her cousin's rage seemed to accuse her of some crime. She imagined what her fury would be if she came to know about Brigaut. Perhaps her cousin would have him sent away, and she should lose him! All the many thoughts, the deep and rapid thoughts of a slave came to her, and she resolved to keep absolute silence about a circumstance in which her conscience told her there was nothing wrong. But the cruel, bitter words she had been made to hear and the wounding suspicion so shocked her that as she reached the kitchen she was taken with a convulsion of the stomach and turned deadly sick. She dared not complain; she was not sure that any one would help her. When she returned to the dining-room she was white as a sheet, and, saying she was not well, she started to go to bed, dragging herself up step by step by the baluster and thinking that she was going to die. "Poor Brigaut!" she thought.
"The girl is ill," said Rogron.
"She ill! That's only shamming," replied Sylvie, in a loud voice that Pierrette might hear. "She was well enough this morning, I can tell you."
This last blow struck Pierrette to the earth; she went to bed weeping and praying to God to take her out of this world.